Teachers may be the only group who can begin a Saturday morning professional development session with milk and cookies, a nap and a story and not fall asleep. At the Arts Integration workshop held this weekend at the United Arts Council, those preschool staples served as a spark for the energizing activities that followed for the enthusiastic Wake County elementary school teachers present. In fact, every element of the workshop modeled the type of purposeful integration of the arts that the teachers can take back to their own classrooms.
Twenty teachers from around Wake County participated in the third Arts Integration workshop in this year’s series, entitled “Quilting the Curriculum,” led by Barbi Bailey-Smith and Mimi Herman.
Quilting served as an overarching theme in the workshop. Participants felt and saw the quilts scattered throughout the room. They heard the story which Bailey-Smith read, Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold. Among Ringgold’s many artistic explorations, she told stories via quilts, often exploring the political and social ramifications that framed her life as an African-American woman born in 1930 in Harlem.
In the same way quilting weaves together individual squares into one larger piece, arts integration weaves individual disciplines, subjects and objectives into a larger, unified understanding, often displayed through art itself.
Arts integration thrives on the widespread understanding of its principles and commitment of teachers all over a school working together to improve students’ learning. Workshop participants ranged from classroom teachers to art and music teachers to PE teachers. As well, teachers new to arts integration and those experienced in the approach have benefited from workshops.
“At our school, we believe arts integration is critical to student learning. It is what we do every day, working together. These workshops really help us stay inspired,” according to Wendy Fahrenthold, art teacher at Douglas Creative Arts and Science Magnet Elementary School. “Ironically I had just started a Tar Beach collage with 2nd grade the week before the workshop so the Faith Ringgold theme was perfect.”
No one graduates from arts integration. It’s a continual process of finding new ways to be inspired and inspire students.
After listening to Tar Beach, Herman led participants through a guided relaxation and visualization inspired by Ringgold’s book to focus on a particular curriculum standard. Each participant could choose a standard that he/she teaches—and take the activity back to the classroom to use with students. Teachers could visualize the life cycle of an animal, their favorite ecosystem or a particular region of North Carolina to name a few. As they lay on quilts all over the room, Herman asked questions like,
“What does it feel like to fly? What do you hear, smell and taste? How are people or animals changing?”
After the visualization experience, Herman asked participants to apply what they’d thought about to the poetry and art they would create. The teachers wrote poems and drew pictures about the environment, animal, ecosystem of their choice. And, teachers chose whether they wanted to write or draw first, depending on their natural inclination.
Herman and Bailey-Smith also reviewed specific artistic skills, like line-breaks for the poetry and drawing figures proportionally, that would be applied to their collages.
Arts integration gives students the ability to take their exploration as far as their imagination will allow them. And visualizing an element of study, like a land form, helps level the field among students with a variety of life experiences. Ringgold’s story exemplifies for students the ways in which the imagination can lead their learning experience.
According to Victoria Lightfoot, third grade teacher at Cedar Forks Elementary School, “It's always great fun and an exciting learning experience with the United Arts Council. There is power in the arts; I come to these workshops because they recharge me!”
Elementary school teachers, notoriously eager and caring, are inspiring children every single day. The Arts Integration Institute, and its accompanying workshops such as this most recent one, are a small way the United Arts Council can help recharge them to keep doing what they do best.
—Karla Heinen, communications coordinator